Insatiable Ronaldo decisive again in Juve win

Posted by Rob Train



Two decisions conditioned Real Madrid's Champions League victory at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, one of them just and the other really rather harsh. Match referee Manuel Grafe correctly awarded a penalty against Giorgio Chiellini for pulling Sergio Ramos down in the area but didn't issue a yellow card. At the outset of the second half, Chiellini blocked the run of Cristiano Ronaldo in an offence worthy of a caution but received a straight red instead.

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Ronaldo had opened the scoring with a deft finish after more wonderful link-up play with Angel di Maria, and the spot kick he smashed home was sufficient to earn his side a 2-1 win, Fernando Llorente providing Juve's reply from point-blank range after Iker Casillas, restored to the Real goal, had parried an awkward Paul Pogba header as best he could.

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But the night, as it so often does, belonged to Ronaldo, who in his first match against Juventus proved decisive and took his tally in the competition to seven goals from three games. He also ensured that Real got a foot into the door of the knockout stages after Galatasaray thumped Copenhagen to move above the Italian champions into second place in Group B, where Real now have a five-point cushion.

But it was not all plain sailing; Carlo Ancelotti is still not sure of his best 11, although the team that started on Wednesday would probably be close to it if Xabi Alonso had been fit enough to replace his understudy Asier Illarramendi. Dani Carvajal was benched in favour of the greater experience and lesser adventure of Alvaro Arbeloa, but otherwise it is difficult to see anyone else breaking into the Italian's starting plans at present.

Karim Benzema is arguably the most vulnerable in that respect, and he did little to ease concerns over his form in a largely anonymous performance, noteworthy mainly for a glaring miss in the second half that the 54-year-old Ancelotti would still probably have knocked in. There certainly is a lot of work to do for the Frenchman to win back the crowd: He was even booed for failing to reach a loose ball on the touchline a few minutes after his faux pas, which was a little harsh, as Usain Bolt would have struggled to make it.

The roar that greeted Alvaro Morata's introduction was telling, but equally so were the interchanges of arm-waving and finger-pointing between Real's players that the television cameras do not show. On several occasions, Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Angel di Maria engaged in a heated exchange with each other or anyone else within range. Ramos particularly seemed to cajole his teammates into positional changes -- fans of the Andalusian's put-downs will remember him telling Jose Mourinho that tactical in-game changes are necessary, while pointing out that the Portuguese was never a player so he wouldn't know. But Ancelotti was, and a very successful one, and he's not a bad coach either, all things considered. So it is a mild worry that his instructions don't seem to be getting through: Pepe at one point tapped Illarramendi on the shoulder and urged him to move upfield.

But the point of the game is to win, and Real are still doing that, even if the full 90 minutes at the moment are a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde affair. Certainly the Ultras seem happy enough and even picked up a bit of Italian before the game -- or from Tony Soprano -- which they gleefully regaled Juventus' large travelling support with.

However, with Juventus down to 10 men for most of the second half, there was a sense that the jugular was there for the taking, but Real didn't quite know how to apply the killer blow. The visitors shored up immediately after Chiellini's dismissal and defended well, but Real appeared to run out of ideas while the Italian champions, as the old football truism goes, played as well as, if not better, with a man less.

Ancelotti gambled later on, sending on Gareth Bale for the maligned Benzema, then Isco and Morata. But it was Ronaldo, roving across the front line in his free-wheeling role under Ancelotti, who still looked the most threatening player on the field. Morata received a stony glare from the Portuguese for not playing him in and spooning a shot wide instead, but the youngster is certainly knocking on the door of the starting 11 and he nearly profited from some terrible decision-making among the Juve back line straight after coming on. Whether he will be trusted with leading the line at Camp Nou on Saturday is another matter.

Real Madrid are still a work in progress, but they are progressing, and that's good enough for now. Ancelotti's sternest examination since he arrived is the next match on the calendar, and Barcelona have played out two straight draws going into it. Real have the chance to go level with the Catalans in the Liga title race after a less-than-stellar start to the season, but after Wednesday, in the Champions League it's a job well done.

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